Who is this? It’s me

What is national identity? Is it important in today’s world? I never seriously thought about it. In Finland they ask “Mistä olet kotoisin?” which literally means “Where are you from?”. I’ve never been asked, “Who are you?” I always answered that I was from Russia, and this is logical: before moving to Finland, I lived in Russia for 17 years.

I was born in Ukraine. When I was 8 years old, my parents decided to move to Russia. Then it was the Soviet Union. Every year we went to Ukraine for the holidays. My grandparents lived in a village. Now they are no longer alive, but all my relatives live there.

 On February 24, the war began not only all over the world, but also inside me. It was very difficult for me to understand what I felt. On the one hand, there was fear for relatives in Ukraine — two of my brothers fought. On the other hand, I tried to understand my friends who live in Russia, to find excuses for their silence. So far none of them have told me that they are against the war.

The more I hear that Ukraine is not a state at all, that all cities need to be razed to the ground, that Ukrainians are Nazis, the stronger childhood memories overwhelm me.

 I’m 10 years old. Sunday, my grandmother wakes me and my sister up, and we go to church. No persuasion to have breakfast first helps. You have to go to church being hungry. Grandmother sings in the church choir, everyone knows her grandchildren, so we must live up to expectations. And we don’t let grandma down.

We ate, we needed to rest. Quiet time was of no discussion. Whether you want to sleep or not, you must. But you can embroider, and the choice, of course, is obvious. Grandmother takes out a box of threads, a special cloth and the “quiet pastime” begins.

Feelings, smells, people, streets through which you could walk with your eyes closed — all this is now constantly in my thoughts. I return to childhood, as if starting from it, and in this way I build my identity and self-awareness anew.

Now I realize that external circumstances can push a person of any age to rethink the role of ethnicity in his life, lead to the transformation of national identity. And this is the foundation, without which it is very difficult to resist external pressure.

Who is this? It’s me, Maija, I’m 41 years old, I’m Ukrainian, and my native language is Russian. For more than 11 months I have been waiting for the end of the war between my homeland and the homeland of the language that I speak and think all my life.